In the construction industry, existing manufacturing processes for concrete can have many issues including inaccurate estimates, delays, misfabrication, and waste.
Precast concrete, where concrete is cast in reusable molds, is one more efficient alternative to standard concrete manufacturing, but it is constraining in what can be achieved in terms of optimization and aesthetics. 3D printing is a fabrication method that can enable more flexibility, but it requires each layer to be printed on the previous layer.
This unique patented large-scale 3D printing process developed by Soliquid addresses these challenges by enabling free form printing of concrete and other materials.
To accomplish this the printed material is deposited in a gel matrix rather than on the pervious printed layer as it would be in traditional 3D printing and it also eliminating the need for supports. The device comprises a printing tray with a gel matrix and a 6-axis industrial robot with a print head fixed on the end.
The printing material is pumped from the storage and mixing tank to the print head which is plunged into the gel matrix and deposits the material following a pre-determined tool path. The material is kept in suspension in the matrix thanks to a clever balance between viscosity and density of the materials used.
Currently the printing material is concrete but there is no limitation on the printing material other than that it needs to be liquid when printed and solidify in an anaerobic environmental.
Other materials that can be used include polymer concrete, silicone, one or two component resins and composites and several materials can be used at the same time.
We’re excited about this technology because it allows us to rethink the way we fabricate and build by enabling production of complex and custom-made elements that are lighter and more efficient without the use of molds or supports.
In construction this process results in 26% less concrete consumption, 24% increase in productivity, and 39% reduction in transportation impact and carbon emissions.
It also enables biomimicry and bio-inspired designs by allowing for printing with structural complexity and natural intricacy.
Potential applications of this technology include optimization of structural elements such as concrete slabs, columns, beams, and building modules, manufacture of nonstandard architectural elements, production of innovative furniture, or custom-made medical devices such as prosthetics and orthotics. It can even be used to create marine elements like artificial reefs.
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